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Uighurs and Other Friends: A Xinjiang Travel Experience - By John McHale

Xinjiang Province is in the far west of China, and is characterised largely by vast deserts and awesome mountains. Within Xinjiang lies Kashgar: an isolated oasis town which forms an important crossroad between China, Pakistan and Central Asia. It was stories of the famous Sunday market in Kashgar, where traders, nomads and warriors from the surrounding areas converge, that first attracted me to this area. Kashgar is also the starting point for the Karakoram (Friendship) Highway into Pakistan which is also a popular bicycle route for foreigners.

Like many others before me, I had planned to cycle the Highway from Kashgar over the Border Pass to Pakistan, and then down through the beautiful Hunza Valley. However, the theft of my money and passports in Kashgar prevented me from doing this. In spite of this inconvenience, I still had an amazing trip towards the Pass and back, with unforgettable memories of beautiful mountain scenery and the fascinating culture of the minority peoples living there, notably the Uighurs. Click on the thumbnail to view a larger photo. (Full Story Text)

Uighur Skull-cap, Kashgar Market - One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Uighurs are the richly embroidered skull-caps worn by the men. The Uighurs, like many of the people in Central Asia, represent a transition from Han-Chinese to Eastern European. The Sunday Market is the highlight of a visit to Kashgar, and is wonderfully photogenic.
Melon-seller, Kashgar Market - Another pleasant feature of Xinjiang is the abundance of sweet melons - both red and yellow varieties are available. Particularly famous is the Hami melon. A great way to quench your thirst on a typically dry winter day while roaming the marketplace.
Sunset behind Mountains, Karakoram Highway - This was the evening view outside the yurts that I had elected to stay in on my return to Kashgar. I spent the rest of the day admiring the surrounding mountains. Ultimately I was rewarded with a spectacular sunset beyond the distant sand dunes. After nightfall, I resigned myself to moving inside the yurts. However, the yurts eventually proved to be too dirty and noisy for my liking. In spite of the freezing temperatures I ended up spending a comfortable night outside sleeping under the stars.
Young & Old Uighurs, Kashgar Market - The most interesting thing about the Sunday Market is of course the people. Pictured is a young Uighur boy, with perhaps his grand-father. Together they presented an interesting contrast in ages.
Vegetable Market, Kashgar - A typical street-scene on the approach to the Sunday Market. There is also a very distinctive and elegant architectural style to the buildings within Kashgar.
Uighur Barbeque, Kashgar - Forget about being a vegetarian when you're in Kashgar. The local kebabs here are amazing, along with Uighur spicy noodles.
Tashkurgan - The word "Tashkurgan" means, simply enough, Stone Fortress. These 600 year old ruins are now all that remains. Tashkurgan is the last significant township before the China-Pakistan border. Given that I had no passports at this stage and was unable to make the border crossing, this was the furthest point along the Highway I got to before returning to Kashgar.
Roadside Handyman, Kashgar Market
Ghez Canyon, Karakoram Highway - The Ghez Canyon is one of the major climbs along the Karakoram Highway. Given that I was doing an out and return trip rather than my original one-way plan, I'd made sure that I took the bus up and then rode the bike back down, rather than vice versa. The Highway in this area is constantly subject to erosion and landslides. On a mountain bike this was fun, but on the way down I saw several trucks having difficulty with this section, including one with a broken axle.
Subash Plateau - A view over the Subash Plateau with the Kongur Mountains beyond. It was this final climb that had devastated me the previous night. I returned to this point the following morning feeling very cold and hungry, but at the same time exhilarated by the beautiful surroundings.
Uighur Portrait, Kashgar Market - Many of the older men dress the same and wear the same characteristic beard, to the point that a lot of them are indistinguishable. However, in each of them there also seems a quiet sense of dignity.
Local Commuters, Subash Plateau - Life is slow in this part of the world, and the locals remain limited to mule and cart transportation. Given my lack of fitness, and the effect of altitude, my pace on the bicycle hardly matched theirs.
Locals on their way to Market, Kashgar
Outskirts of Kashgar

Uighur Girl, Kashgar Market - Surprisingly, many of the young girls in the market place were willing, if not keen, to have their photo taken. This one is dressed in typically beautiful fashion.

All Xinjiang Photos and Text © John McHale 1998, 2003. Full Story Text Here.